The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, does not have the same impressiveness that it did when I was younger. While it was an essential document to civil rights, it has some history that is tarnishing to its good name. When I was growing up–(as I am sure this will ring true with you)–I was taught that the Emancipation Proclamation was an important, historical document; the fact that Lincoln’s proclamation was not just a blanketed “Slaves are Free!” was never discussed in school, not in my school anyways. I was taught that this document was as important, to our country’s history and our civil liberties, as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution had been. As part of my “mini-series” on the Civil War, I wanted to touch on this before we jumped into 1863.
First, it is important that you, as the reader, understand the definition of emancipation. Wikipedia.org’s definition is as follows:
Emancipation is a broad term used to describe various efforts to obtain political rights or equality, often for a specifically disenfranchised group, or more generally in discussion of such matters.
Now that we have that covered, the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by President Lincoln under his authority as “Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy” under Article II, section 2 of the Constitution. This was an order he gave using his war powers, which he was allowed because states were in rebellion and in secession, and as so was not passed as a law by Congress. This order, which went into effect on January 1st, 1863, proclaimed the freedom of slaves in ten states.
…..and it just clicked! Ten states?!? What?
Yes, the Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in the southern states, and not even all of them! The Emancipation Proclamation did not outlaw slavery and it did not free the roughly 500,000 slaves in the Union states; the proclamation did not affect slaves in Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, or Delaware. At the time Tennessee was mainly controlled by the Union, as was New Orleans, and several counties in southern Louisiana and Virginia. Because these areas were controlled by the federal army, they were not covered by Abraham’s proclamation either; therefore, all slaves in these areas were still slaves, even though there were originally part of the Confederate States of America. (This made up for almost another 500,000 slaves!) President Lincoln received lots of flak for this, as he should have. The two main reasons why he his idea was questioned were: 1) that the Union Army was not powerful enough to effectively enforce this new order, and 2) that he had allowed the Union to keep all their slaves and had “freed” slaves over which he had no authority.
Then why, you ask, would Lincoln have issued this proclamation?
Some historians argue that it was without a doubt to help the Union’s fight. Freeing the slaves in southern states would crumble their economy. The Emancipation Proclamation also allowed freed slaves to join the United States military–which about 200,000 of them ended up doing. Both of these proved vital in the South’s downfall in the war. Others argue that Lincoln was a clever, public relations expert and that by acting as if ending slavery wasn’t the main objective of the war, that when the time came…”Ooops, all the slaves are now freed.”
I cannot believe that I was never taught that the Emancipation just freed slaves in the South. Either way, the Emancipation Proclamation made abolition a central goal of the Civil War and was the major stepping stone that later led to the Thirteenth Amendment, which took effect in December of 1865, making slavery illegal.